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India abstains, UNHRC votes against Lanka's rights record

Last updated on: March 23, 2021 18:09 IST

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday adopted a strong resolution against Sri Lanka's rights record, in a setback to Colombo, which described the move as "unwarranted and unjustified" interference in its internal affairs.

IMAGE: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, left, with President Ram Nath Kovind, centre, and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi at Rashtrapati Bhavan, November 29, 2019. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter.

The resolution titled ‘Promotion of Reconciliation Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka' was adopted by the 47-member Council after 22 members voted in favour of it at the ongoing UNHRC session here.

India and Japan were among 14 countries which abstained from voting.

Eleven countries, including Pakistan, China and Russia, voted against the resolution.

Sri Lanka described the draft resolution as "unwarranted, unjustified and in violations of the relevant articles of the United Nations' Charter…"

The resolution was adopted despite intense lobbying by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had dubbed the resolution as an act of political vendetta moved by the Western nations against Sri Lanka.


India, which abstained from voting, said its approach to the question of human rights in Sri Lanka is guided by two fundamental considerations.

"One is our support to the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, dignity and peace. The other is in ensuring the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. We have always believed that these two goals are mutually supportive and Sri Lanka's progress is best assured by simultaneously addressing both objectives," said Pawankumar Badhe, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of India, Geneva.

He said India supported the call by the international community for the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments on the devolution of political authority, including through the early holding of elections for Provincial Councils and to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution.

At the same time, he said, India believes that the work of Office of the Human Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should be in conformity with mandate given by the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly.

"We would urge that the Government of Sri Lanka to carry forward the process of reconciliation, address the aspirations of the Tamil community and continue to engage constructively with the international community to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens are fully protected,” Badhe added.

Sri Lanka was earlier defeated at three consecutive resolutions at the UN rights body when Gotabaya's elder brother and incumbent Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was the country's president between 2012 and 2014.

In 2015, the Maithripala Sirisena's government had co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution and the action was described as a betrayal of Sri Lanka by Rajapaksa-led opposition then.

The government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa had officially withdrawn from co-sponsoring the previous resolution undertaken by the previous government. It had called for an international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both the government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the final phase of the near-three-decade-long civil war that ended in May 2009.

Ahead of the voting on the resolution, President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda made phone calls to world Muslim leaders.

Pakistan, which voted against the resolution, dubbed it as one which was aimed to rekindle the sufferings of the people rather than achieving reconciliation. Pakistan was appreciative of the Lankan government's late decision to allow burials of Muslim COVID-19 victims as a reason to support Sri Lanka.

The resolution calls upon "the (Sri Lankan) government to ensure prompt thorough and impartial investigation, if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international human rights law".

The resolution was tabled by the Core Group on Sri Lanka consisting of the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia at the 46th Session of the (UNHRC) in Geneva.

The United Kingdom on behalf of the core group on the resolution regretted Sri Lanka's lack of commitment and noted that space for human rights defenders had decreased and emblematic human rights cases have been stalled. Austria on behalf of the EU member states echoed the UK's concerns on Sri Lanka's right accountability.

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